States lift mask mandates despite Biden’s warnings and rise in Covid cases – as it happened – The Guardian

In a keenly awaited memoir, Joe Biden’s son Hunter attacks Donald Trump as “a vile man with a vile mission” who plumbed “unprecedented depths” in last year’s US presidential election.

Hunter, 51, is a lawyer and businessman who has been the focus of Republican bile ever since Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani sought information on his business dealings in Ukraine to use in the 2020 campaign.

On the page, Biden insists he did nothing wrong in joining in April 2014 the board of Burisma, the gas company at the heart of the Ukraine affair. He dismisses the controversy as “remarkable for its epic banality”. But he says he would not do so again.

He found the company’s role as a bulwark against Russian aggression under Vladimir Putin “inspiring”, though the five-figures a month fee was also a factor. Biden acknowledges that his famous surname was considered “gold” by Burisma. “To put it more bluntly,” he writes, “having a Biden on Burisma’s board was a loud and unmistakable fuck-you to Putin.”

Giuliani’s search for dirt saw Trump impeached – and acquitted – for the first time. Republican attacks on Hunter Biden have continued, focusing on his business dealings and also his troubled personal life, including well-known struggles with drink and drug addiction and recently a decision to purchase a gun which became part of a domestic dispute.

Biden’s memoir, Beautiful Things, deals with such personal issues as well as the deaths of his mother and sister in a car crash in 1973 and that of his older brother, Delaware attorney general Beau Biden, from brain cancer in 2015. The book will be published next week. The Guardian obtained a copy.

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Ever so slightly, the Atlanta Falcons broke with most other major companies in Georgia and issued a statement supporting voting rights in Georgia.

“Every voice and every vote matters and should be heard through our democratic process in Georgia. The right to vote is simply sacred. We should be working to make voting easier, not harder for every eligible citizen,” said Arthur Blank, the team’s owner, in a statement.

“To that end, AMBSE leadership, along with our nonprofit partners, conveyed that ideal directly to state officials in recent weeks. Our businesses and family foundation will continue to actively support efforts that advance voting access for the citizens of Georgia and across the nation.”

Georgia governor Brian Kemp signed a sweeping measure last week that requires voters to provide ID when they vote by mail, shortens the mail-in voting period, allows for unlimited voter challenges, and bans providing food or water to people standing in line to vote.

Georgia activists for weeks have been pressuring major companies in the state, including Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, Home Depot, UPS, Aflac and Southern Company to take a stand opposing the bills. Many of those companies have declined to forcefully speak out against the measure, saying they support balancing voter access with election integrity. Some activists have recently begun calling for a boycott of Coca-Cola over its stance.

Several states are pointedly ignoring the latest coronavirus warnings and fears voiced by Joe Biden and the government’s public health experts, as they disagree with the White House and amongst themselves.

Earlier today, Arkansas announced it would lift its statewide mask mandate, which has been in place to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, despite the US president pleading with state and local leaders to maintain or reinstate mask mandates as US infections rise again.

But other moves are afoot. The Republican-controlled Arizona senate voted yesterday to rescind its mandatory mask policy, the Associated Press reported.

Alabama governor Kay Ivey intends for her state’s mask mandate to end on 9 April as planned, though she urged people to wear masks as a matter of personal responsibility.

“We have made progress, and we are moving towards personal responsibility and common sense, not endless government mandates,” said Gina Maiola, Ivey’s spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, the Kentucky governor Andy Beshear, a Democrat, said he would appeal to his Republican counterpart in neighboring Tennessee, Governor Eric Holcomb, to reconsider his move to drop that state’s mask mandate.

“Kentuckians are going to be more at risk if Tennesseans are not under a mask mandate,” Beshear said.

Infections are currently rising in around 30 US states, compared with 20 states last week.

The US and the UK have sharply criticised a World Health Organization report into the beginnings of the coronavirus pandemic in Wuhan, implicitly accusing China of “withholding access to complete, original data and samples”.

The statement, also signed by 12 other countries including Australia and Canada, came hard on the heels of an admission on Tuesday by the head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, that the investigation was “not extensive enough” and experts had struggled to access raw information during their four-week visit to Wuhan in January.

Tedros also said there should be continued examination of the theory that the virus had escaped from a Wuhan institute of virology laboratory, even though the report deemed it “extremely unlikely” as a source of the pandemic – a theory promoted by some in the Trump administration.

The long-awaited report by experts appointed by the WHO and their Chinese counterparts said the global pandemic probably came to humans from animals.

The statement by the 14 countries, which criticised delays in the investigation, called for timely access for independent experts early in future pandemics, and once again underlined the highly contentious politics around the investigation during which WHO experts gained access to China after months of fraught negotiations.

The prosecution’s questioning of witnesses through the second day of the Derek Chauvin murder trial has sought to establish several themes.

One is that police officers did nothing to help George Floyd, despite his growing distress and struggle to breathe as Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.

Prosecutors also sought to head off defence claims that Chauvin’s actions were influenced by threats to his and other officers’ safety from an increasingly alarmed crowd of bystanders.

A succession of witnesses described attempts to intervene, and admonitions from the crowd directed at Chauvin and other officers, as intended to help Floyd, not threaten the police.

The fourth witness of the day, a young woman who was identified on the public feed of the trial only by her first name, Alissa, because she was 17 at the time of Floyd’s death, told the court she started to film the incident because she was aware the situation was deteriorating.

“A lot of people looked in distress on the sidewalk. And George [Floyd] looked in distress,” she said. “He looked like he was fighting to breathe.”

Alissa said she appealed to Chauvin to stop when she saw the officer pushing his knee deeper into Floyd’s neck.

“His eyes were starting to roll to the back of his head and he had saliva coming out of his mouth,” she said.

Alissa testified about the content of the phone video she recorded as it was played back to her in bursts. At times the distress in the voice of members of the public can be heard as some demand that the police check Floyd’s pulse.

At one point in her testimony, Alissa paused because she was crying, and said it was difficult to talk about because of the emotional toll of what she witnessed.

“I felt like there wasn’t anything I could do as a bystander. I felt like I was failing him,” she said.

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States lift mask mandates despite Biden’s warnings and rise in Covid cases – as it happened – The Guardian

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